Fear itself is scary

My daughter fell down the stairs last night. I heard footsteps on the carpet, then ka-plum, BAM, bum, THUMP, whump, OWHEE!

She landed at the foot of the stairs, moaning but not broken.

Accidents are the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. Of household accidents that occur, falling outpaces poisoning, burning and household pet maulings.

My son, 15, attended his final driver’s ed class Friday. He wasn’t looking forward to another day of lectures on driving drunk accompanied by photographs of mutilated bodies.

Automobile crashes are the leading U.S. cause of death for ages 16 to 20. A vehicle collision occurs every 10 seconds, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and a car accident fatality every 13 minutes.

For breakfast this morning, I cooked two eggs (430 milligrams of cholesterol). No bacon (5 grams of fat per thin slice) or buttered toast (10 grams per tablespoon).

Cholesterol and fat—side order of obesity—contribute to heart disease, the leading U.S. cause of death, claiming around 700,000 lives annually.

There are justified fears—and dangers we can reduce simply by removing piles of laundry from stairs, eating well, exercising and teaching our teens to drive defensively.

But who worries about mundane risks when we’re fighting a War on Terror? We can’t slip back into a pre-9/11 false security, say our nation’s leaders. Don’t forget, warn radio hosts and TV reporters, to be afraid, very afraid.

That’s the fed’s argument for domestic spying, for government databases that record library check-outs, DVD rentals, gambling habits and overseas phone calls to Uncle Jakob.

Our freedom dissolves.

Maybe you’re OK with the National Security Agency’s wiretaps without warrants. You have nothing to hide. If the government wants to install a microchip in your head so BushCo can know your whereabouts, track your conversations and data-mine your brain waves, no problem. We are, after all, at war.

Before you sign up for the implant, consider what critics of Constitution-busters like the Patriot Act and domestic spying have said for years. Terrorism barely registers as a risk in the United States.

Even if terrorist attacks occurred regularly here, the odds of you or your family being impacted are extremely minimal compared with the odds of dying in a car accident (1 in 7,000 annually), from cancer (1 in 700) or heart disease (1 in 400).

Michael Rothschild, an emeritus business professor, wrote about this in the Washington Post in November 2001, when Americans were hesitant to get on airplanes. Given the 18,000 daily commercial flights, Rothschild estimated, if one plane were hijacked and crashed into a tall building per week and a person traveled once per month, the odds against that person’s being on a crashed plane would be 135,000 to 1. If one plane were hijacked monthly, the odds swell to 540,000 to 1, Rothschild calculated. If terrorists obliterated one U.S. shopping mall per month, the odds that a person who mall-shopped for two hours per week would be killed? Six million to one.

But though terrorism incidents have increased worldwide in the wake of U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, planes aren’t being hijacked, and malls aren’t being bombed here.

Before Christmas, Bush signed an extension of the USA Patriot Act, a blank check for law enforcement that’s not demonstrably effective in the War on Terror. Feds, before 9/11, had tools for fighting terrorism. But President Bush, when warned of the Al Qaeda threat, preferred not to interrupt his vacation and take action.

The Patriot Act expires in February, unless legislators agree to extend or refine it.

Now might be a good time to call representatives in Congress, telling them that injecting irritable, muscle-bound feds with more steroids is what we truly fear.

That, and saturated fat.